Old vs. new lenses. Old wins. FATALITY

J-8, one of those lenses with many unmeasurable qualities just at home on a Leica III
J-8, one of those lenses with many unmeasurable qualities just at home on a Leica III

Once I saw post in a forum in which some chap asked whether he should buy old glass (actually he mentioned a few models like Pancolar, Super-Takumar, etc.) or stick to the zoom kit lens he got with his brand new DSLR. And you know, opinions are like asses: everybody’s got one; there were all kinds of answers, but one fella made me smile telling the guy that both all those classic lenses and newer ones were better at taking pictures than we are photographers. That is and isn’t true.

To be fair, lenses formulated in and after the 1980’s beat hands down older lenses at key aspects like flare, contrast and resolving power. Coating tech may not look so glamourous as optical design, but the revolution came from there.

It should be surprising that there is an ongoing, and sometimes enraged, debate in the Internet about this nowadays. If even the cheapest kit lenses nowadays can kick their counterparts’ asses any day of the week in everything measurable, why are we still buying and taking pictures with that old inferior glass?

Now you’re hoping I gonna say something like ‘it’s because they’re chrome and shiny and ladies know better than going with sissies that shoot plastic lenses’, but I can’t cause my partners in the business have threatened to sell their share if I keep speaking my mind enough times that I have had to go into some self-censorship here. I hate them.

Anyway, there’s more in life than chrome-and-shine in life. Nomen est omen: there’s always the importance of being Sonnar. Japanese marketing people aren’t much into the thing of naming lenses. It is much, MUCH, more unlikely to have your name chanted in icelandic sagas if it is USM 55-200 than if it’s Jena Pancolar. Hell, say it three times: the later rolls so much off your tongue that sounds almost wagnerian while the former is just a series of numbers. It’s Sigurd And The Dragon vs. 55-200mm. KICK ITS SORRY PLASTIC ASS, SIGURD. It may look silly but it’s true: imagine that you have have two samples of 50mm 2.8 Tessar for M42 mount, one of them labeled Tessar, and the other made one month later when its manufacturer lost the rights to the name and had to label their lenses with just a T. All the rest being equal, you will be able to sell the Tessar much faster and for more than the T. A name and a surname add so much mystique upon a lens that they allow a chunk of glass and metal to become a legend while random numbers and letters, which are today’s naming style, sounds just like your two grand premium zoom could as well be an electric kettle for all its maker cared.

The most arguable reasons to choose ‘classic’ lenses over newer ones are those related to the image ‘quality’. I mean, if you’re arguing over resolution, you can solve this by shooting a test chart and comparing lines resolved per inch. You can’t go wrong with this. As normally modern lenses do much better, old glass die-hards go with unmeasurables such as ‘bokeh quality’, ‘3d effect’ or even ‘Leica Glow’ to justify their choices, often putting themselves to shame when they are asked to tell pictures taken with their favorite lenses from ones that aren’t and failing miserably.

My point is that there are many reasons to shoot old glass but none are rational. I don’t mean that shooting old glass is stupid, just that it’s something that comes from your guts instead of your intellect. And boy, in this life there’s nothing better than doing what you like instead of what is better.

If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you’re one of the ass-stubborn. Do what you want cause a pirate is free: you are a pirate. LOL, Limewire. Buy Lenses. From me.  

Medium format freak show



Medium format SLRs for non-specialised use are a totally different breed than 35mm cameras. The current shape of the 35mm SLRs were defined between the 1930s and the early ‘50s, and the most critically influential design is, without the shadow of a doubt, the Kine Exakta. What we identify as an SLR today is, almost without exception, a scion of the Exakta. The other is the Contax S, which ported the concept of the Kine Exakta into the Contax rangefinder body, which was inherently superior, plus, they added the pentaprism, without which most of us don’t understand an SLR. For medium format cameras, designers followed different strategies.

The main influencer in medium format SLR design is the Hassy. The original Hasselblad is allegedly based on a German aerial camera. Should we trust their founding myth, and you know what do I think about founding myths, it is a military tool adapted for everyday use, which is creepy enough.

Anyway, most 120 SLRs since the ‘50s are Hassy knockoffs and were conceived for pro use. But you know, I like swimming upriver so pro cameras are not really my primary choice when I want to shoot some square frames. I know most of you old schoolers like to shoot pro gear from back in the day, but I have a less discriminating taste and I like freaks of design like the Kiev 60 above.

The Kiev 60 is a monster of a camera. It is a more or less exact copy of the Praktisix, another medium format camera, itself inspired in the first Exakta 66. What is surprising about the Kiev 60 is how hard their designers tried that it looked like a 35mm camera. People call it an Exakta on steroids but what it really looks like is a Praktica turned into the Hulk. GNAAAAARGH, KIEV PHOTO YOU. That’s the spirit. I shit you not: the shutter is so loud that once I almost knocked a brickey off a scaffold by spooking the shit out of him when I shot him unnoticed.

I have a fetish for Kievs, both the 60 and the 88, which is a total knockoff of the first Hassy, and I’m not the only one. These guys have the same bug as I do. Yes they totally cuckoo, and I love it. And they’re right: Kievs really have something that a normal medium format camera won’t give you. They’re cool for amateurs, I guess, and when they want to work, they’re as good as any other half-serious medium format camera. The glass is quite decent: I have tried all the normal primes for the system, some of them made in Germany, and they’re all great… but man, don’t take it to a pro assignment, cause they are commie products and they hate capitalist photographers like you, and they will for sure break at the worst possible moment. It’s not because they’re not well built, it is because they’re a bunch of commie bastards.

Yes, from time to time, I have some Kievs and other medium format cameras for sale. If you’re man enough for a medium format camera, I mean.

Zeiss my shiny metal ass

Suffer, bitch
Suffer, bitch

What you see above is a Contax G1 camera body. Well, more exactly, this is the part in which you can verify that it was made in Japan by Kyocera, which, if you didn’t know, at the time when this camera was released was known in the West for making copying machines. The system was a flop. Not because the cameras and the lenses were bad: they weren’t. In fact, the lenses are on par with Leica, which is to say that they’re as good as a photographic lens can be. They failed because there was no market for such a product. Them guys at Kyocera failed to understand why they would totally fail at selling “Contax” cameras made in Japan.

It was because they weren’t Zeiss.

It doesn’t matter how much you pay to some German conglomerate to use the Contax or Carl Zeiss brands if everybody knows you are a Japanese copying machine company: people ain’t gonna buy into it. You can spend as many millions you want, but you can’t buy one hundred years of history. In a market where purchases are so emotionally driven as high-end amateur cameras, being a fraud is fatal. Because if I am an afficionado who doesn’t care about money and have to choose between a fraud and a camera whose brand has always been its own, I will go to Leica. And that’s just what people did: they passed on the Contax G, as wonderful as it was, and they went to the real thing. Very often I hear orientals lecturing the western world in general for being so materialistic yet I haven’t seen people with so much confidence in the green bills with presidents on them as the Japanese. After rightly kicking the German (and every other nationalities, if that matters) camera makers asses out of every market by offering better and cheaper products than them, the Japanese added insult to injury by buying the brands of all the sacred cows of German optics. By believing that photographers would jump at the bait of buying something with a German name but made in Japan by a Japanese company, in other words, a fraud, Japanese conglomerates showed that their hubris was rivalled only by their idiocy.

Those of you who have been around for a few decades will remember how it went. After the 1950’s thinks weren’t so well for German camera makers. The sector underwent painful restructuring as a result of the Japanese irruption: many companies were cast out of business and others had to completely rethink themselves. That’s euphemism for squandering all their machinery and real estate and selling their brand names for peanuts. Guess to whom. The few survivors ended up badly injured and some had the big idea of outsourcing their production to East  Asia. Even Leica joined the bunch for a while. And the remedy just killed the patient.

It could have worked if what they sold was nuts and bolts, but when you are buying a Voigtländer camera or a Carl Zeiss lens, what your are buying is the expertise, tradition and mystique that goes with the name. You just can’t buy pizzazz.

But you can buy a camera. From me.

Smenaing of life

Hell, it was hot
Hell, it was hot

I took the picture above with a Smena, a camera that I kinda like. Lastly I’ve noticed in social media an increase of interest on this  Soviet little camera. There are several iterations of it, but most mount the old T-43, which stands for Triplet mark 43 and are totally manual, including manual cocking. Later models have markings for fools, meaning that you are supposed to always keep the iris closed at a fixed f depending on what film sensibility you are using and changing speeds manually depending on light conditions. Of course, you can override the dummy mode and shoot like a real photog, which is what ultimately makes the Smenas nice cameras. They are compact, light, and they have a speed range of 1/15 to 2/250 and f’s from 4.5 to 16, which is all you need to take pictures if you want to, for instance, go hiking. Yes, that was a Barnack pun. Oh, and they have a nice, little, coated lens. Which happens to be the its weakest feature. But it doesn’t matter, cause the lens is just the most important part of a camera. No, the Russians got it right. Ok, ok, I’m being a little unfair here: Smenas were intended to be cheap cameras to be easily made by the millions, which they were, and the lens had to be a cheap one. But, by Krom, why did they had to mount such an atrocious lens on the Smena? I mean, I’ve seen doublets… hell, even plastic meniscuses, do better than the triplet on the Smena. When I say atrocious I’m really being nice. But I like atrocious. Le freak, c’est chic.

When I think this chick must be 80 something by now, I get woods
Kinky pics with a toy camera. I love it.

Here’s what you can do with a Smena. Well, more exactly this is all you can do with a Smena in a pro photo studio in the 1960’s, when this pic was taken. Chap behind the camera tried to prove you could do pro work with a Smena because you could wire it to a flash rig. If you’re a photog, you should be laughing right now. It’s soft, just how i like it. Those triplet lenses couldn’t help it. But no, really, I like the characteristic personality of this lens, even if I wouldn’t recommend it for anything serious. I mean weddings, press conferences, etc (serious = boring). The T-43, the lens on the Smena, renders a butter-soft image, without any trace of definition anywhere, and that for sure would be off the charts (on the lower side) in any serious lab test. Ironically, this composite, coated lens is exactly what you need if you want to give your pictures that lo-fi look that Lomography fakes with Photoshop in their promotional images.

And yes, I sell Smenas.

Quantum of badass

Watches fer butches

Russophobia: Russians say you have a bad case of it whenever you criticize anything Russian or from Russia. They do it as much as Americans say you are anti-them whenever you don’t like something done by their government; well, in the case of Americans you won’t hear it as much just because many of them are so happily ignorant of everything that happens abroad. I myself have been accused of Russophobia sometimes because how I talk about Soviet cameras. What should I do? Saying they’re not bad compared to Japanese cameras? You’d call me a liar with good reason. Truth is I’m much of a russophile and I celebrate Russia and Russian culture as much as I celebrate American, and for one time, I’m not joking. That is not to say that I think that Russian or American governments always exert a good influence over the world, oh no.

I’m more exactly a nostalgic sovietmaniac, in the sense that I collect gizmoes from or related to the old Soviet Union. Again, no nostalgia about the USSR politically.

It all began when I held my first Zenit onto my hands. It was so different. It was almost as if someone had copied a camera from the West and then this model kept evolving in a completely different line. Which, by the way, was exactly what happened. From cameras, I went to calculators; from calculators to watches; from watches to 2 wheel drive motorcycles, and from there to the dark side. Just like in the cerulean blue sweater monologue in The Devil Wears Prada, every piece of stuff is like an iceberg: it is more than it seems, with its very own backstory, and many times, even a secret life with secret wife and secret children too. I just find this secret life of Russian technology so interesting. And of course, I want it all. I‘d make one lousy buddhist, me.

There’s nothing wrong in obsessively learning every irrelevant little spec of a Lada car, but when you dream of buying one and making it your only means of transport, you’re overdoing it. I just moulted into that instar now and I think I’m losing it. The wife agrees. Emphatically.

That above is my newest baby: a Vostok Amphibia watch. Powered by the V 2416 movement, with a date display, all into an octagon case. And yes, if we were face to face, I would bore you for hours about how great it is. We men are like that. And speaking of men: it seems this bug bites men only. Cameras too. Women are more practical: we’re a bunch of idiots. The russkies knew for sure, because Russian tech all has this macho thing into. Big watches for big butches. Big male choppers, for riding bare chest across Siberia. Badass iron-cast, heavy as shit, cameras, because being a journalist doesn’t mean you ought to be a sissy.

Now let’s focus on the cameras (yes, pun). You need everything Russian, sure, but above all you need a Russian camera. And you can buy it here.  

Random talk

Give it all to me, baby
Give it all to me, baby

Not long ago, I read an article in papermag.com in which David LaChapelle interviewed Steve Sasson, the creator of the first digital camera. I mean, serious business here. There’s a lot of myh on the invention of the digital camera, I mean, that of Kodak locking Sasson in a closet and the evil board of directors hiding the blueprints of the gizmo at the bottom of a safe so that tech breakthrough didn’t ever see the light of day. That isn’t accurate. It’s true that Kodak failed at making the transition from basically a chemical company into a digital imaging one, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. In fact they were making zillions out of licensing the digital camera patent to third parties, sometimes even mounting Kodak sensors onto their camera models. If Kodak didn’t want to make a profit out of this patent, we wouldn’t have seen our first digital camera until 2005, when the original US patent expired. They wanted to sell digital cameras, but, much like Xerox in the 80’s, they failed to translate the fact that they had all the relevant patents into a position of total market dominance. They tried. And failed.

Continue reading Random talk

Walking your Leica II

I'm sexy and I know it
I’m sexy and I know it

You know, when Oscar Barnack, the all-maker, gave the first Leica to us, he had a very specific idea of what he wanted to achieve: he wanted to give us a camera that was small enough to fit in your pocket and light enough to carry it on a sunday hike. That is, of course, the official story by Leitz, first owner of the Leica brand, and as storytelling goes, it is probably bullshit. More or less. Because you can’t trust someone who’s trying to sell you something. Except for me, the most honorable of merchants. You can trust me head-on because I love you more than I love my business. I like this creation myth though; just in the sense that it is so stereotypically German that it is almost hilarious. I see the eyes of Doktor B wide open in a closeup, the plane slowly travelling out and showing a demented grin: “Eureka! I vill kreate a kamera für zee hikers!”; all this in b&w 1930’s cinema film. Just sublime.

Why do I distrust the hiking camera myth? My two cents: too politically correct in its context to be true. Because, let’s admit it: if you build cameras, or cars, or battleships, your primary goal is selling them and everything else you’re going to add to this is just marketing.Baron I, is an exception to that, of course.

Besides, the Leica I, II, and III are too much great cameras just to be aimed at a niche market. I simply do not believe that those marvels were intended to just be ‘portable’ cameras; they weren’t just gizmoes that compromised quality just for the sake of portability. Simply because they didn’t compromise quality at all, having superb mechanics and great lenses from the very beginning. Just look at the first massively-produced interchangeable lens for 35mm, the Leitz 50mm 3.5 Elmar, which was sold as the simplest kit lens with the first wave of Leicas. It was rocket tech compared to its competitors in the portable camera world, at 6×9 format, which were much slower and simpler designs. So sorry, I can’t believe that the Leica was intended as a camera just for those not willing to carry a 6×9 folder to a climbing excursion in the Alps. Its superior design, choice of materials, and finish were too ambitious; the Leica aimed to much at the stars for me to believe that the Leitz family didn’t intend from the beginning to take over a significant part of the market. Not to mention the immense possibilities that a so small quality camera enabled.

Those who said that the cinefilm format was too small to take quality pictures with tended to obviate the fact that the 6×9 format was more intended to make copies by contact than to be enlarged. 35mm pictures enlarged to, say, 50x70cm are quite difficult to tell from 6×9 ones, and if you’re using a shitty doublet, as many 120 and 127 cameras happened to mount, they’re for sure going to be much better. The Leica was perfect for what it was meant to do. Which was almost everything, at least in real world situations. Yes, I have been picking at Leica so much that I felt like I needed to tell everyone how great I think the first Leicas really were in their context. I’m like the kid at your first grade class that picks on the girl he likes to draw her attention, just because he is so idiot to try any other form of interaction. That’s for you guys at Solms. If you would send a Leica MP to me, I would accept it. Reluctantly. Shiny black paint. And vulkanite cover. And normal framelines. Oh, well.

And the subliminal message in this article is that you want to buy a screwmount Leica from me. Now that’s it.



Ah! Another strange beast. Not because its rarity; in fact, it’s quite a common camera, but take a look at it. How on earth did them people at Olympus manage to put a reflex camera into this tiny compact body. Well I guess that the vertical half-frame (18x24mm) helped, but still… No, it’s a joke, I know everything about cameras: the magic trick here is a double porroprism, which in my language sounds quite funny. Porroprism rigs are potentially much smaller than pentaprisms, which allowed them guys at Olympus to build an SLR camera that was smaller than a 35mm rangefinder.
Main drawback: the image will be dim as hell, but hey, it’s so small.
One curious thing about this camera is that I’ve heard that long since now, in the era of the all-analog film making the Olympus PEN FT was highly coveted by still photography pros in the movie sets, as it offered the chance to shoot stills with frame ratio similar to that of cinema cameras. Now, with the digital age being irreversible both in photography and film making, it’s no more than a curiosity… But hey, it’s shiny and chrome, and you and me know that the gods of photography favor those who shoot with style.

Aaaaaaand, yes, I always have one or two in my store cause they’re so cool, so now you know where to buy one.

Going Alpha male

Alpha, bro
Alpha, bro

See what an adapter can do? Of course focus is a little tricky cause this lens, the ‘FED Summar’ was collimated specially for its native body, which, I will totally casually add, is for sale in my store, bundled with the lens.

It’s a pleasant lens to use anyway, if you can endure the inconvenience of the focussing lever and the flare wide-open.

Someone once said that adapters were the most disruptive gadget in the camera industry: ten bucks and you can bypass the schemes of first brands. Of course, first brands don’t make them because they want you to use their lenses. Besides, it would be bad marketing for them to advertise that one of the advantages of your system is that you can use glass from competitors.

But in my opinion this is what the Sony Alpha was all about: being able to use all kinds of classic lenses on a full-frame shiny-new digital camera without having to sell your firstborn to the devil to be able to pay for it. What I really mean: you could already shoot with your Summicron on a FF camera before the Alpha 7, but it had to be an M9, which at the time was close to four grand used.

The Alpha 7 has been the most interesting thing that has happened in digital photo gear since, well, forever.

And them guys at Sony sure know how to make shit up: Alpha. Lack of subtlety and appeal to testosterone make sure photo gear territory stays the turf of machoes for yet another generation. Like peeing in the corners. No girls allowed.

Now, you know that what I love most in this world is you reading my blog, and I know you like me to be happy, and all this and, well, do you know what I love even more than this? You buying stuff from my store. Because heaven holds a place for those who make others happy, and I would be ecstatic if you bought something.

E is not for Excellent

A nice all black export version
A nice all black export version

Back to Zenits it is, then. Now, what’s after Zenit 6? Zenit 7? After the 6, them guys at KMZ decided that they were done with numbers and that they would start using letters. ‘E’ was as good as any other, I guess. Numbers weren’t the only thing over, as you can see: the external design departs fully from the Leica-ish rounded corners body and becomes more Contax-ish: an irregular octagon. It’s arguably a more comfortable design. Maybe. No, I’m not going to admit that the Contax handled better than the Leica.

Continue reading E is not for Excellent